Updated: Oct 17, 2020
In July, after a review of the irrigation well, Phil promised he'd take me on the tour that he personally took the board members on to justify the expenditure on the well to irrigate RedTail and maintain the Turnberry Lake levels. We set a date and he canceled.
So, as of this typing, Phil and I have never walked the irrigation system so that I could fully understand the need. But we have some amazing residents in our village -- residents who were fully willing to spend a couple of hours walking and driving around Turnberry to help me understand. Residents who have been here a lot longer than Phil and had a ton of history to add. And that tour, combined with some really old and detailed documentation has brought me to today -- when I get to share all that I've learned.
This is not a quick read, forgive me. The irrigation system that feeds 36 holes of golf off a single river is complicated and the realities of the system need to be broken into smaller pieces. So, while I'd like you to take this visual and text journey with me, I'll not be offended if you scroll to the end and read my closing questions. The reality is, there is no sign that the test well has even been attempted and there's been no updates in months.
First, a cool map (feel free to use this link to go to Google Earth and zoom in):
So, the journey of the water begins with the Kishwaukee. There is a dam that has been built to create a retention pond from which 36 holes of golf are watered. All of my photos were taken on October 7th -- about a week with no rain; but certainly not at the height of the dry season.
This is the dam -- honestly, this brings new meaning to 'makeshift' if I've ever heard of it. My hosts have told me that this is actually fairly cleaned up, but in years past there have been mattresses and all sorts of things here to back up the water into the retention pond that feeds the pump system. In person, it looks like it could burst at any moment. I will say there were some enterprising beavers up the river a bit that might be helping us out with a dam of their own.
By zooming into my map, you can see the pond and the channel that the water goes to get to the first lake in Turnberry. I have notes that the water level of the Kishwaukee is 4 feet lower than the lakes on the golf course. There was an electric lift pump installed back there, but at the time of that report the electrical work to run that pump was not completed. So, once there was a diesel pump pushing water up the 4 feet; but it was discontinued due to noise complaints. It's marked as Turnberry Pump 1.
There is a pump that then pumps water to the other side of the golf course. This water traverses 2,040 feet transfer line that ultimately flows into a lake near Lake 4. This lake and Lake 4 are connected by a pipe and are at the same level -- so no pump is needed.
Lake 4 is connected to Lake 3 using a spillway/standpipe connection. Both sides of this connection are horribly overgrown and likely should be cleaned out to allow for proper water flow. This is located right next to the boat launch into Lake 3.
Lake 2 is connected to Lake 3 via a small channel -- effectively these two lakes are one lake. I have a note that the channel was last dredged in 1991 (I don't have a date on the notes I have, so I don't know if it has been dredged since -- though my tour guide didn't recall it having been done).
On the south side of Lake 2 is not just a pump house that feeds the RedTail golf course with it's water, but also an earthen dam. This is where my tour got super interesting. First, the earthen dam and joining spillway (that allows overflow from Lake 2 to feed into the wetlands) are quite old. The prevailing theory is that they were a public works project in the 30's; but for sure it predates the 70's building of original Turnberry. Second, without this dam and spillway, all of the water from Lakes 2, 3, and 4 will drain away. My understanding is that earthen dams should be grass covered (to prevent erosion) and free of trees and shrubs (because their roots cause rivulets of water that cause erosion). This ideal state of an earthen dam does not exist. In fact to get to the spillway, one needs to be willing to push through fairly substantial brush and every one of those trees and scrubs has the potential to cause a breakdown of the dam. And to have the lakes -- any of the lakes, we need that dam to exist.
Next up was the spillway. This is a really cool, hidden spot in Lakewood to find. It's a stunning view of Lake 2. But what was interesting here is that the spillway is designed to allow Lake 2 to shed water if it gets too full. Remember, I was there on October 7th and here are two photos I took of the edge of the spillway:
I measured. The water is 1 inch below the edge of the spillway. So, when I last went through a bunch of the FOIA'd information on the lakes, I see that Phil's plan hinges on raising the Lakes 4" in preparation for the drought season. But there's no plan to raise the height of the spillway. Assuming that the level I saw the lake at is below the 4" increased height, I'm not sure how that's possible. Curious, indeed.
But then I found something disturbing about the spillway --- it was wet. Now, it's possible that because of all the overgrowth and shade it hadn't dried out from the week ago rains; but it was curiously wet -- wet like it might have a leak. And I don't know when the last time the spillway was inspected; but I do have 1987 documentation that the spillway had minor leaks then -- approximately 24 gallons a minute leaks per the report (of note, in the year that the lakes were studied that year, the lowest level was 18" below the average level -- due to the leak and dry season). My tour guide told me that in the early 2000's there was work done to the spillway, so I'm going to assume that the '87 leaks were fixed. BUT is it possible that the low lake levels are at least in part due to a leaking spillway/earthen dam situation? Could this be part of the cause of the swampy area along the cart path at Hole 2 at RedTail? We won't know unless we have someone come in and inspect the spillway and dam -- and then spend the money to make any needed repairs and maintain the system. Anyone know when the last time these inspections occurred?
Finally, I get to the most eye opening piece of news on my tour. Lake 1 is connected to Lake 2 by a concrete block "channel" that I'm told is only wet in the spring with thaw. My notes tell me that Lake 1 is six inches higher than Lake 2 and is designed to feed Lake 2 with a standpipe (which I believe was removed to create this channel arrangement). Needless to say, Lake 1 is still higher than Lake 2. Little known tidbit, apparently original Turnberry Country Club attempted a well based fill system for Lake 1 and there is a well that I understand has been capped (or filled) near present day Turnberry Park. This well fed into Lake 1. Today my understanding is that Lake 1 is entirely sourced by rain and thaw water.
After hours of walking the system; after hours of combing through documents; after hours of reading how to move water, irrigate a golf course, and reduce weeds and algae in the lakes; I'm forced to ask -- what problem are we really trying to solve here?
If it's to water RedTail, then the suggestion by the environmental people is to drill multiple wells that pump at 50 gallons per minute to reduce impact on the aquifer we need for drinking water -- but that answer does nothing to maintain the lake levels OR to reduce the weeds and algae from the lakes.
If it's to maintain the lake levels, then why are we not looking at raising the spillway AND a pump to push water uphill from Lake 2 to Lake 1?
If it's to reduce the need for the service to keep the lakes free of weeds and algae, then why did Phil have the aerators removed from Lake 2 (and sold) the company paid to maintain our lakes hasn't been treating Lake 2?
And don't forget that this well was approved with no budget and the village only got a single bid for it.